Balayage vs. Highlights: Which one's best for you?


e get it, there’s a lot of information to take in about hair color lately. If you’re thinking of switching up your shade, or just want to understand what all these buzzy terms really mean, look no further. Here, the Society team breaks down how balayage and highlights are unique, the pros and cons to each, how to choose what’s right for you, plus a few ways to score the benefits of both. 

How are they different?

First things first: Despite what most people think, balayage is a technique, not a look. Balayage often gets associated with a beachy, surfer kind of color that is brighter around the face and ends, with blended roots. But the highly requested service has nothing to do with the finished result and everything to do with the process. The word balayage actually means “to sweep” in French, since that’s how the color is applied. 

Balayage is a hand-painted application that creates natural-looking, sun-kissed hair color with only a paint brush (no foils, caps, or guides). Some colorists might incorporate a film, like saran wrap, to achieve a lighter result. The result of balayage is very soft, emulating that way your hair would lighten up after spending all summer on the beach. It produces a warmer tone, and is best when used on dark blondes. 

With highlights, hair is woven and lightened up from the root down to the ends, with some hair (that won’t be colored) left in between. Sectioning techniques help make sure that the hair is evenly highlighted so it doesn’t look stripe-y or streaky. The sections to be highlighted are folded into foils to keep them away from the other hair. This creates a very uniform result. The highlighting process is more powerful, offering a brighter color lift that makes a dramatic difference. 

They both have their pros and cons.

Balayage pros. Balayage is customized, natural-looking, and low maintenance—thanks to the blended root with no obvious line of demarcation. Balayage cons. But it’s not a very bold hair change, it doesn’t create uniform root-to-tip color, and it may not be powerful enough to dramatically lighten darker hair (or hair that’s been colored many times). It can also skew a little bit on the red side if your hair is dark. 

Highlights pros. Highlights can dramatically lift, brighten, and add dimension throughout all of your hair. It is effective on every hair color and can be as warm or cool as you like. Highlights cons. That said, highlights aren’t as natural looking, they require more frequent touch ups (due to the more obvious line of growth at the root), and they can be a bit more damaging. 

What’s right for you? 

This decision is really up to you and your colorist. The best way to find out which is the right approach for your hair and your color goals is to chat with a pro. We highly recommend that you book a consultation before your visit, and we offer consultations virtually so you can get all your questions answered before coming into the salon. 

Want the best of both worlds? 

Balayage and highlights are both great options. But they’re not the only options. If you want a low maintenance look with the softness of balayage and very brightened up ends, you may want to explore balayage with a “tip out.” This is a combination of both techniques—hand painted throughout, with a few sectioned and foiled strands for extra lift and brightening (usually at the ends). 

While we’re on the subject, babylights are another choice we love. 

Just like the name implies, babylights are teeny, tiny highlights. They are woven very fine so that they blend seamlessly into your base color. The end result is less about contrast and more about a glowing finish with a subtle, multi-tonal color blend. You know how little kids always seem to have the best (natural) highlights? Babylights can help achieve something like that! This can also be used in combination with balayage to brighten up some areas in a seamless way—and to add a little sparkle.

Keep Up With Us On The Daily

Emails you'll want to open, we promise.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.